Easing into the year

I wrote last October about a layered trail: ice, mud, and leaves underfoot. That’s pretty much what I’ve found in January in southern New Hampshire, minus the leaves. Things are pleasantly messy, as long as I have some traction on my shoes. Yes, even for the flat paths: slipping on an icy flat trail in Mine Falls Park left me with a concussion a few years ago. That’s one winter adventure I don’t care to repeat.

I was in Sandown the other day, sharing a trail with some polite ATVers. The trail wasn’t so much layered as patchy: ice here, slush there, frozen tire tracks in the shade, and lots of mud down the middle. I accidentally hit on the best time of day to be a walker there: mid-afternoon, after most of the ATVers had finished for the day. Not every multi-use trail works out so well for me.

Not every trail gives me town line markers. I like it when the markers agree with my GPS.

A short drive north: the Northern Rail Trail follows the Merrimack River in Boscawen and part of Franklin. On New Year’s Day there, I was surprised to see what I’m certain was an osprey. I thought for sure they’d all have headed south long before. An unexpected sighting like that is always a treat. I was too slow to get a photo. I have many miles yet to discover along this trail, which is one of the most popular in central New Hampshire. I’ve walked on each end, so to speak – Lebanon and Enfield at one end, Boscawen at the other – and there are about 40 more miles to go. I could bike it in the summer or fall, but somehow I think that’s taking the easy way out.

Norhern Rail Trail New Hampshire with signs for two snowmobile clubs
Where the work of one snowmobile club ends, another’s begins.

While we’re on the subject of walking in January, let’s thank the snowmobile clubs that groom so many of the trails I enjoy. It’s not all snow grooming: when a club takes responsibility for a trail, the members also do things like clear away deadfall and make sure the trail’s full width gets attention.

I haven’t neglected my town’s conservation areas. I spent a brisk hour on a big loop route starting in Grater Woods, connecting with an adjacent neighborhood with which I was unfamiliar, returning on busy Baboosic Lake Road. I’m not a fan of being a pedestrian on one of our town roads with little shoulder and no sidewalk, but sometimes that’s where a path takes me. As for Horse Hill, I’ve never had a bad day there. No matter how many cars are in the parking lot, the trail network is extensive enough to keep us out of each other’s way.

Do you have resolutions about walks you want to take this year? I always start the year with a list of destinations, more for inspiration than anything else. I don’t want to waste time wondering where to go, if I find myself with a free afternoon. I just dip into The List, which I admit is heavy on rail trails. I also keep a map of New Hampshire on my wall, with outlines of each town, and after I walk in a new town I color in its spot on the map. I get a silly amount of satisfaction out of that little visual record.

Join NH Rail Trails Coalition, Get Guidebook as Bonus

My appreciation for New Hampshire’s rail trails is expressed all over this blog, as many readers have found. Now, the New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition is offering a deal that I hope will win the trails some new fans.

Until December 15, 2020, you can join the NHRTC ($20 for a one-year membership for individuals, $35 for organizations) and receive a copy of Charles Martin’s guidebook New Hampshire Rail Trails, 2nd edition at no additional charge. There’s no better guide to the trails around the state, with more than 100 maps along with photographs and trail descriptions.

Want to take a crack the the Rail Trails Challenge? Martin’s book and the Challenge’s Facebook page (private, but anyone may request access) will be your new best friends. Meet the Challenge, earn a patch. Even if you don’t travel on all the rail trails in the state – and as someone who does a lot more walking than biking, I know the Challenge can be a slow process – you’ll have memories and experiences that are way more valuable than a patch, even a pretty one like this.

emblem of New Hampshire Rail Trails Challenge
Patch awarded for completion of NH Rail Trails Challenge

If you already have Martin’s book, maybe there’s a Granite State walker in your life who would love to receive a copy as a gift. Another gift idea: separately from membership, the Coalition also offers a hat for $20 (shipping included).

New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition hat and book

Full disclosure: I’m on the NHRTC board, but I get no personal benefit from this promotion except the pleasure of knowing that it will encourage more people to value a New Hampshire recreational resource.

Fall day in Candia

I drove down Depot Road in East Candia a little slowly, wondering if I’d be able to find the parking lot where the Rockingham Rail Trail crosses the street. I needn’t have worried; the nearly-full lot was impossible to miss. That’s nearly full. I tucked my car into one of the few open spots.

East Candia New Hampshire railroad depot sign
No depot building here, but a sign marks the spot where a depot once stood. All photos by Ellen Kolb.

The lot was a busy place. Couples and singles and families were taking bikes off racks or putting them back on. Hikers were setting out, many sporting seasonal blaze orange vests. It was as warm a day as November ever brings, and everyone wanted to take advantage.

Pick a direction: should I go east into Raymond, or west through Candia? Seeing several parties setting off to the east, I wished them well, and then turned my back to them to walk west.

rail trail granite walls
Rock cut along Rockingham Rail Trail, East Candia NH.

The Rockingham Rail Trail between Manchester and Newfields is more than 20 miles long. It’s a piece-at-a-time endeavor for a walker. I picked a winner of a day to amble out-and-back on a three-mile segment in Candia.

Temp in the 60s: what kind of November is this? Sunshine, few clouds, air as dry as could be.

There were more bicyclists than walkers on the trail. That didn’t mean walkers were overwhelmed; traffic was light to moderate. The few walkers kept their cheerful distance as we passed each other with smiles and nods – you stay on your side and I’ll stay on mine, we seemed to be saying.

Where houses were visible as I approached Main Street, the sounds and smells of a sunny late-autumn weekend took over: raking, leaf-blowing, the last round of mowing for the season, a carefully-tended fire to burn the clippings.

New England rail trail autumn
A sign along the way hints at the winter traffic to come.

My turnaround point was Route 43, or more precisely the tunnel under the ramp linking 43 with Route 101. The parking lot in East Candia was nearly deserted when I returned. I decided to spend a little time walking toward Raymond, but I was racing the sunset: after half a mile, I returned to my car.

I think I saw the trail at its most inviting for walkers. Once the snow flies and piles up, the Rockingham Rail Trail will become a snowmobile corridor. Until then, all you need there is your bike or your walking shoes.

My turnaround point. West of Candia, the trail continues through Auburn into Manchester.

New Hampshire Rail Trail Challenge Update

Here’s a Zoom meeting worth going online for. The New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition (of which I’m now a board member) invites you to a Rail Trail Challenge Update on Monday, November 23, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. The online event is free, but registration is necessary.

If you’ve been enjoying the Rail Trail Challenge, or if you’ve never heard of it and would like to know more, c’mon in.

Guest speaker will be Charles Martin, author of the New Hampshire Rail Trails guidebook now in its second edition. There will be time for questions and answers. I also hope to hear some trail reports and stories from Challenge participants.

See you then. In the meantime, you can learn more about NHRTC by checking out its website.

bicyclist on rail trail in forest
A bicyclist enjoys the Presidential Rail Trail in Gorham, NH. Ellen Kolb photo.

Another good trail in Concord

Some of my favorite short after-work hikes have been in Concord, New Hampshire, not far from the State House to which I used to travel for business. The trails on Oak Hill and in Winant Park stand out. Now there’s a new one – new to me, anyway – on the north side of town, where I recently walked for a fine hour and a half.

Autumn forest rail trail Concord NH
Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail, Concord NH. All photos by Ellen Kolb

The two-and-a-half-mile long trail is a segment of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail (CLSRT). This long-abandoned old rail line will someday be an uninterrupted upgraded rail trail once again linking Concord and Lake Sunapee. For now, it’s a disjointed thing, with a little piece open for use in Warner, another in Bradford, and now another in Concord.

I was there on an overcast, comfortably cool day. I overshot the lot by just a bit as I drove north on U.S. 3; turning around was no problem in a nearby business’s lot. Mine was the only car in the parking lot at the trailhead, at 25 Fisherville Road (U.S. 3). I found there an information kiosk and a bike-service stand.

trailhead Concord-Sunapee rail trail, Concord NH
Trailhead in Concord, on U.S. 3.

The first section of trail had a surface of smooth well-packed stone dust. The trail was flanked by businesses on one side and a wide open field on the other.

Cloudy day with rail trail
Peak color was past, but autumn conditions were pleasant along the trail.

Before long, the trail entered the woods, becoming a little rougher but still wide and well-defined. Most of the more-vividly-colored leaves had dropped. What was left created a glowing golden tunnel. Granite markers recalled the days of the old active line, when C stood for Concord and CJ stood for Claremont Junction.

The trail stayed close to U.S. 3 before veering west to parallel Bog Road. Traffic noise was not intrusive. One dog’s barking certainly was; more about that later. The noisiest moment I had was when I flushed what must have been a grouse concealed in the leaves just off the trail. The bird’s explosive takeoff startled me half out of my wits.

What’s now a formal piece of rail trail has apparently served as a snowmobile trail, or so I conclude based on one well-signed junction. For the most part, though, I was on a path freshly improved for walkers and bikers alike. Runners, too. I was passed by a few who were probably delighted not to have to get their miles in on the nearby roads.

Trail junction with directional signs
A signed junction along the way.

The trail passes through a residential area, with trees providing some buffer. Many properties were posted with customary small “no trespassing” signs. One owner adopted a more aggressive approach: a huge sign for the owner’s favored presidential candidate, including some profanity for emphasis; a fence alongside the trail with a disproportionate number of signs to discourage wandering trail users – seriously, one would have done the job; and a noisy bulldog to underscore the whole message.

In what may or may not be related news, the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail website mentions a land-ownership dispute with a nearby resident on the Concord section. At the time I was there, the trail had no detours.

Grouse and bulldog aside, I had a refreshing five-mile round trip walk. I owe that to amazing work by many volunteers and donors who built up this section. Together, they have created another fine trail in Concord.

For more information: Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail

Autumn road trip: clouds and no crowds

My husband and I drove north for a hastily-planned weekend trip for some hiking and biking, past the peak autumn foliage and the oppressive crowds driving to see it. The cloudy weather got cloudier. Traffic got lighter. When we stopped at a little inn on U.S. 2, we were exactly where we wanted to be.

You can call it “past peak.” I call it just fine.

narrow road in autumn, Weeks State Park New Hampshire, photo by Ellen Kolb
Weeks State Park auto road. All photos by Ellen Kolb.

It was not a weekend for grand vistas or clear night skies. Low clouds were the rule. My favorite lookout spot on the Weeks State Park Auto Road, which usually features a showstopping view of the Presidential Range, featured nothing but a wall of fog.

sunset and fog with fire tower, Prospect Mountain NH, photo by Ellen Kolb
Weeks State Park: sunset and fog on Prospect Mountain.

So instead of looking at things miles away, I spent more time looking at things like the carpet of red maple leaves under my feet. I liked walking for miles in the cool conditions. Segments of the Presidential Rail Trail were ideal.

bicyclist on Presidential Rail Trail, autumn, New Hampshire, photo by Ellen Kolb
Presidential Rail Trail, Gorham NH

The only noisy mile of trail was one I shared with ATVs in Gorham when I wanted to get a look at the Androscoggin River from a trail bridge. Once I’d done that, I scooted back west to where the trail was closed to motorized traffic. Once I was on that stretch, I saw a grand total of three other people in five miles of walking.

Androscoggin River in Gorham New Hampshire
Androscoggin River, Gorham NH: low in October after a dry summer

At one point during the weekend, the clouds lifted enough to reveal nearby Cherry Mountain, which for once wasn’t just a visual foil to all the other peaks in the area. I was lucky enough to be walking in the Pondicherry area when the sun came out and the view opened up.

Cherry Mountain, Jefferson New Hampshire. Photo by Ellen Kolb
Cherry Mountain, Jefferson NH

Note: there’s been extensive work recently on the Presidential trail in the Pondicherry area. The unpaved surface there is in the best shape it can be.